90% of the conversation about the Russia-Ukraine war is being carried on by people repeating propaganda from one side or the other without actually knowing anything about the region or the players.
My unpopular position from the beginning has been that the vast majority of everything you hear from both sides are lies and that the story involved is rarely as simple as either side tries to make it.
There are no good guys here, just a messy conflict with a lot of history to it. (And no, the United States has practically nothing to do with that history that predates us.)
Take this story.
The Kremlin on Wednesday furiously reacted to Poland’s decision to revert the name of the Russian city of Kaliningrad on Polish maps to a historical title, calling the move “madness” and evidence of Russophobia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the renaming of the Russian exclave city to the Polish historical name of Krolewiec demonstrated Poland’s “hatred of the Russians.”
“This is not even Russophobia any longer,” Peskov told reporters, according to Russian state-run outlet TASS. “These are processes that verge on madness that are taking place in Poland.”
The designation of Krolewiec will only be referred to as such on Polish maps, after a government commission recommended the change.
Kaliningrad, administered by Russian authorities, is on the Baltic Sea, sandwiched between Poland to the south and Lithuania to the north and east.
Poland does not actually control the city making the point mostly moot except for international trolling.
The Russians named the city after Mikhail Kalinin, a top Bolshevik figure who signed off on the Katyn Massacre. Kalinin, despite his significant official role, was a mostly obscure figure no one really cares about. Other cities named after him have been renamed even in Russia proper.
The fact that the Russians haven’t and are vocally defending it is another reminder that there’s no meaningful historical break between the Communist Soviet era and the Putin one. There’s plenty of Russian historical figures the city could have been renamed after.
So that’s one way of viewing the story.
Another way of viewing it is that by changing the name, the Poles are aligning with the Lithuanian name change. And changing names is a political act that rejects Russian sovereignty over the place. After the breakup of the USSR, Kaliningrad was cut off and is outside Russian territory. The Lithuanians recently began enforcing sanctions on it and this is a reminder that they can completely cut it off at any time.
What would happen if they completely cut it off? It would be an interesting question for everyone concerned. Especially NATO. It won’t happen for exactly that reason, but some historic muscles are being tensed.
Kaliningrad’s names are a reminder that there’s a lot of messy history here that makes no one look particularly good and that the history comes with an equally messy map, territorial divisions, populations and all that which don’t fit neatly into any particular picture.
These are the kinds of details no one cares about when screaming that one side or the other are villains, but the truth lies in the details. And it’s a messy and complicated truth.